I, like many others in my field, see the term Web 2.0 and cringe. More so when used inappropriately. Then we hear and see people in our own field using it inappropriately, and groan and smack our foreheads.
This, like a lot of lingo, is often thrown around without a real understanding of what it is and what it means.
Let me put it like this: I’ve avoided jobs where I saw postings from people stating they want someone who understood Web 2.0. Or that they wanted a Web 2.0 website. Because I would have to ask them, “What do you mean by Web 2.0? What does Web 2.0 mean to you in this context?”. And they’ll decide that I’m the idiot here and clearly I don’t know anything. After all, EVERYONE knows what Web 2.0 is, right?
It is almost physically painful for me to hear someone to ask, “Do you know Web 2.0?”.
Web 2.0 is not a software program. It’s not a design style. It’s not a business model.
It is a term coined by Tim O’Reilly in 2004 that can best be boiled down into “what we’re doing with the web now”.
A year later, O’Reilly said “In the year and a half since, the term “Web 2.0″ has clearly taken hold, with more than 9.5 million citations in Google. But there’s still a huge amount of disagreement about just what Web 2.0 means, with some people decrying it as a meaningless marketing buzzword, and others accepting it as the new conventional wisdom.”
And now, in 2009, this is still very true. But ultimately, it seems to have morphed to mean something else. Much like Search Engine Optimization used to have a different meaning from what it has become.
To many of us, the term still means something more in line with what Wikipedia has listed: “The term “Web 2.0″ is commonly associated with web applications which facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web. Examples of Web 2.0 include web-based communities, hosted services, web applications, social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups and folksonomies. A Web 2.0 site allows its users to interact with other users or to change website content, in contrast to non-interactive websites where users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them.”
(Don’t laugh, Wikipedia can get it right sometimes.)
There are many web designers out there, novices in the field compared to some of us, who talk about Web 2.0 design. They, and many website owners or future website owners, think Web 2.0 is just about a certain look and feel on a website. Ultimately, that seems to be what the term is evolving into for many. There are many popular web designer sites out there talking about HOW to do Web 2.0 design. When really, a better way to put it is: current trends in design.
Frustratingly, other web designers calling it Web 2.0 lends a certain amount of credibility to the term as a design concept. This perpetuates the idea that Web 2.0 is a design style. And those designers, when people like me argue that they’re not helping, are often prone to sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “la la la la la!”.
So ultimately, when I hear people talking about Web 2.0 design, I know they mean something like what the other site is discussing. But that can be such a broad subject. Trying to narrow any actual design style or trend can be challenging. For example, this site lists a variety of trends that were popular in 2008 (and still are). Note how many variations on any style there are. So if someone tells me “I want a retro look” or “I want a modern look”…that doesn’t tell me much. See how many there are that are retro? See how different they are? And what means modern to one person means something else to another. Now imagine that as: “I want a Web 2.0 look”. That could mean anything, and your guess is as good as mine.
This is why trying to drop all of these design styles under a Web 2.0 umbrella can drive old school designers like me a little nuts. I may have to give it up and go with the flow, and start calling it Web 2.0. I just can’t fight it anymore. But, because of the wide variety of meanings, I’ll still have to tell clients to show me examples of websites demonstrating what they have in mind. I’ll still have to ask, “What does Web 2.0 mean to you?”.